Morgantown can’t keep firebugs down
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Morgantown detectives and firefighters are searching for those who set a street fire that destroyed three parked vehicles and damaged a home following West Virginia University's first conference win of the football season.
Multiple street fires were reported and extinguished Saturday night into Sunday morning. The most serious was in a normally quiet downtown neighborhood, said Mark Caravasos, Morgantown's fire chief.
It was reported at 6:57 a.m. Sunday on Cass Street, a narrow road off the Richwood Avenue loop behind Arnold Hall.
Firefighters found a piece of upholstered furniture burning and two vehicles ablaze. A third vehicle caught fire as they worked to extinguish the blaze.
It appeared the fire had been set in the street but spread to the back of a 2003 Dodge Dakota. The pickup's gas tank ruptured, spilling fuel onto the street, Caravasos said.
The gasoline pooled and ran along the ditch line to another vehicle, which was parked two vehicles away from the pickup, causing it to catch fire. The flames from both vehicles and the gasoline caused the third vehicle, parked between the two, to ignite, Caravasos said.
The radiant heat caused the vinyl siding at 725 Cass St. to melt, among other damages.
"This was a fire gone wrong for sure," Caravasos said.
No injuries were reported, but the damage was significant.
The Dodge pickup, a 2006 Chevrolet Canyon and a 2000 Chevrolet Lumina were destroyed. Caravasos said the vehicles alone resulted in $35,000 in damages. The house suffered about $1,000 worth of damage.
He said detectives are working with fire investigators to determine who set the fire. As of Monday, investigators had no suspects but were working a few leads. It was not immediately clear if WVU students were involved.
A fire was reported at 5:19 a.m. Sunday at 700 Cass St. Authorities did not know if the two fires were connected.
Fires also were reported in the 200 and 300 blocks of Grant Avenue, North Spruce Street, McLane Alley and the 100 block of Jones Avenue.
The weekend fires were the first of the school year, he said.
Caravasos said he had predicted a "bad problem" for the school year. He was surprised there had not been an incident before the weekend.
"It was the perfect weekend for Morgantown," Caravasos said. "The city looked good, the university looked good and the state looked good. Then you've got this, and that's all anyone wants to talk about, and it's unfortunate.
"Thanks to them for taking away the thunder of the game."
Penalties could be harsh. If students were involved, they face expulsion in addition to criminal charges.
Chris Northrup, executive director of the Mountaineer Maniacs fan group, had no comment.
Tommy White, coordinator for the Goodwill City ambassadors group, said he did not think the fires would hurt the group's goal of fostering good relationships with fans of opposing teams.
Corey Farris, WVU interim dean of students, said the frustrating part of the ordeal has already begun as university officials wait for word on whether the culprits were students.
He said the university has had problems in the past with students involved in incidents similar to this, but another trend is out-of-towners coming to Morgantown to get involved in bad behavior or to rile the students.
Farris said 10 students were expelled last year for fire-related incidents.
"We most certainly take it seriously," Farris said. "This is truly criminal behavior, and whether the intent was there or not, these are people who need to be taken off the streets."
Farris hopes someone will come forward with information.
"It does frustrate the university, and I know it frustrates the firefighters and the police," Farris said. "It's a shame and an embarrassment for the community that some people feel the need to do that."
The university recently released a public service announcement asking students and other fans to "Save a Couch" by not setting it on fire. The video, which was made by and featured students, was well received, he said.
University officials spoke to students and parents at freshman orientation and sent out letters to parents of upperclassmen about the consequences of being involved in such behavior.
"This kind of behavior is unacceptable," he said. "They wouldn't do it at home and shouldn't tolerate it living at WVU."
Caravasos said firefighters are ready for the next home game later this month when the Mountaineers take on the Kansas State Wildcats.
"We're well aware of the situations that come with football games," he said. "We've increased manpower on game day weekends and we're ready. We always hope for the best but prepare for the worst."
Anyone with information can contact Morgantown police at 304-284-7500 or the Morgantown Fire Department at 304-284-7480.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4850.